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The CCJ is grossly underutilized!

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5.MAY.06

Editor: I recall 18 years ago, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were in the forefront in plans for the abolishment of the Privy Council and the setting up of a regional court.

I was solicitor general at the time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines when the late Selwyn Richardson, who was attorney general of the twin island Republic and Brynn Pollard was Caricom’s chief legal advisor, were traveling around the Caribbean convincing governments that the time was ripe for a regional court. Now to my surprise the two countries, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica and the OECS countries have yet to amend their constitutions to remove the Privy Council as the final court. {{more}}

Jamaica tried to enact legislation in this regard, but the opposition filed a motion stating that it was unconstitutional to remove the Privy Council as the final court by a simple majority in Parliament. The motion went as far as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which ruled that it was necessary to have two-thirds majority to effect the change. But it seems as if the Jamaican government cannot achieve this unless the opposition Jamaica Labor Party agrees, but this is not forthcoming.

Despite this, the regional governments have gone ahead, at great expense, to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and so far appeals from only two jurisdictions, Guyana and Barbados, can be heard by the CCJ until the other countries have “put their houses in order”.

Guyana is the first and only country in the Caribbean to abolish appeals to the Privy Council and it did so in 1970 when it became a Republic.

The question being asked is why the CCJ was set up so early when there is not enough work for the highly paid judges, since they can only hear appeals from two countries? However, the CCJ can also determine trade disputes arising from the regional governments, but there are not many of these industrial disputes for the top judges.

Now there is a further development, a lawsuit filed by an opposition legislator in Trinidad and Tobago challenging the legality of the regional court, the CCJ.

Kamla Persaud Bissessar, former attorney general and a senior member of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), filed the constitutional motion last week on behalf of Opposition Senator, Dr. Jennifer Kernahan and businesswoman Venosh Sagewan-Maraj.

The Patrick Manning government, five years ago on February 14, 2001, signed an agreement establishing the CCJ, and the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, by a simple majority, passed the CCJ Act.

The motion filed at the Red House in Port of Spain, seeks to have the High Court determine that judgments of the CCJ are not final decisions on cases for Trinidad and Tobago since the constitution of that country only recognized the High Court, Appeal Court and Privy Council as final appellate courts.

The motion also contends that the CCJ is therefore inconsistent with the constitution and challenges the abrogation of constitutional powers from the constitution to override local courts.

It also states that the CCJ is not a permanent court since regional countries can withdraw by simply giving three years notice in writing.

Further, the motion seeks to determine why more than TT 206 million (US$34.3 million) has so far been paid as Trinidad and Tobago’s contribution to the Port of Spain-based CCJ, while not one single local case has reached the court.

There is no doubt that the CCJ is grossly underutilized. As far as I recall the regional court, since its establishment nearly a year ago, heard only one appeal from Barbados, and during the past weeks it dealt with a few applications for leave to appeal.

Two Guyanese are judges in the CCJ. They are Desiree Bernard, former Chancellor of the Judiciary in the Co-operative and Duke Pollard, who was a senior legal officer in the Legal Department of CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown. The youngest judge of the court is Vincentian Adrian Saunders who was acting chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court when he was appointed to the regional court.

Oscar Ramjeet

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